- John Simpson
- BBC international affairs editor
The Khyber Pass is one of the greatest wilderness passages, so rugged that it is almost impossible to pass due to its steep slopes, it stretches from the Afghan border to the Peshawar Valley 20 miles (32 km) away in Pakistan.
For three thousand years, armies in the valleys wrestled with these narrow rocky passages and set up encampments in their valleys. The insignia of the regiments of British and British Indian armies that crossed this pass can still be seen, and are still carefully preserved along the sides of the pass overlooked by the forts built by the British to guard the road.
was Pashtun men Armed with old Gesells or primitive pistols, holed up in rock tops, they shoot soldiers passing through with amazing precision.
Nowadays trucks loaded with agricultural produce from Afghanistan drive through sharp turns and sometimes men and boys cling to the sides of these trucks while old people walk on the sides of the road with stooped backs carrying crates of smuggled goods on their backs.
An atmosphere of fear and urgency
The Khyber Pass ends at Torkham Crossing, the busiest border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Several years ago, the Pakistani authorities completely renovated the crossing. Although the crowds waiting at the crossing are better organized than before, there is an atmosphere of fear and anxiety at the crossing as people try to escape from Afghanistan’s new rulers, the Taliban. From the Pakistani side you can see Afghans crammed behind wires in the midday heat, waving their documents and begging the guards to let them pass.
Only people who have permission to leave Afghanistan for medical reasons can enter Pakistan with their families.
The long line of people, wheelchairs and suitcases slowly moves forward through the multiple checkpoints.
On the road that passes through the border crossing, two Pakistani soldiers stand face to face with the irregularly dressed Taliban guards.
The Taliban border guards did not refuse to talk to me. I asked one of them, a huge man with a bushy beard and wearing a mask: Why doesn’t the green and red Afghan national flag flutter over the border point and be replaced by the white Taliban flag bearing the words: “There is no god but God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God?”
He replied proudly: “Our country is now an Islamic emirate, and this is the appropriate flag for the whole country.”
Tensions prevail between the two parties from time to time, but in general, they deal with each other without hostility.
But there is no talk of brotherhood between the two parties. Many Afghans blame Pakistan for the Taliban’s victory. They implicitly believe that the movement was founded and promoted by Pakistan, especially the notorious Pakistani intelligence service.
In fact, Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban have not been as close as they were before since Imran Khan became prime minister of Pakistan in 2018, and its influence with the Taliban has been significantly declining.
For most governments, the relationship with the Taliban at the moment is very embarrassing. The militant group has links to Saudi Arabia and some Gulf states, although not strong.
The country closest to the Taliban is China, which does not feel any embarrassment about it. With so many ordinary Afghans trying to flee their country, its economy seems undoubtedly on the verge of collapse as it did when the Taliban was last in power between 1996 and 2001. So Chinese economic support is needed to keep Afghanistan afloat and this will give Beijing a significant degree of control over Taliban policy.
The Taliban will almost certainly not raise embarrassing issues with China, such as the treatment of its Muslim and Uighur population.
The Taliban’s seizure of power was a disaster for the United States, Britain, Germany, France and other countries that had helped Afghanistan over the past twenty years. This also led to the elimination of the great influence that it enjoyed in Afghanistan during the previous stage, after India poured large sums of money and experience into Afghanistan. All this is over now.
When the movement first took control of the country, it was an international pariah and the economic situation deteriorated to the point that by 2001 there was no money to buy fuel, leaving the few remaining cars out of work and most residents unable to buy generators, and power cuts became Electricity is widely used.
The streets were dark and silent at night and during the day most people preferred to stay indoors as much as they could out of fear of the Taliban gangs.
Will the same scenario be repeated now?
What distinguishes the current stage from the previous one is the Chinese role. If China is certain that it will gain appropriate economic and political advantages, it will save the Taliban rule from collapse, otherwise the Taliban will face the future alone.
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